Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 99-93 Game 1 win over the Dallas Mavericks from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Rudy Gobert dominated the game without making a basket
The Jazz won that game because of their defense. Allowing just 93 points in a game is pretty big-time, no matter the state of the Mavs’ injury report.
In particular, Rudy Gobert was just dominant down low, dissuading the Mavs from getting anything at the rim. The Mavericks only made eight shots at the rim all game long, when they typically average 15 per game, showing just how fearsome Gobert was.
Stuff like this is just bonkers. Gobert forces Jalen Brunson to pass it to Dwight Powell rather than take the layup. Then, Gobert’s able to turn around and defend Powell’s layup. When Powell gets the ball again, Gobert recovers right back into the play to stop it.
You know the rim protection story. But I also think it was interesting how the Jazz defended the perimeter much better too, even when the Mavericks went five-out. Watch what happens here (and compare it to what Gobert did last year against the Clippers).
Gobert’s in the paint to prevent the shot, and the Mavs do kick it out, rightly. But Donovan Mitchell’s there to quickly rotate to the corner, and then Gobert can recover out to the perimeter shooter to prevent that look, too. It’s so different, and much more effective, than what they did last season.
Maybe if the Mavs can move the ball more quickly, they can have a better chance of exploiting that space. But I thought one moment of the game was telling: when Dallas tried to go small in the 4th, Snyder immediately subbed Whiteside out for Gobert. They feel confident with Gobert against small lineups, and you can see why.
One other note: in the past, we have occasionally seen Gobert pout about not getting touches, and it can affect his defense. Tonight, he took just one shot all game, but he kept the defensive effort high regardless. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a guy with zero baskets make this much of an impact on a game, but Gobert did that this afternoon.
2. 2-headed attack of Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic
Bojan Bogdanovic is a bargain at $17 million per season.
With Mitchell struggling, Bogdanovic absolutely carried the Jazz in the first half. His biggest source of offense was the post-up — as the Mavericks switched, going to Bogdanovic against a smaller defender was a logical way to attack the switch.
Then Mitchell figured it out in the second half after a 1-9 start: he could get the Mavericks off balance a little bit by calmly maneuvering through the paint in the half-court.
I also think it’s so important for him to be aggressive in transition: he got eight easy points in a 19-point third quarter just by going immediately after getting a rebound or outlet pass.
But the thing to be most proud of? Mitchell and Bogdanovic worked off the threat of each other in the fourth quarter. The Jazz have had a tendency to be Mitchell-heavy late in games. While there were a couple of possessions of the Jazz forcing it, what we saw late minutes was instead the Jazz flowing the ball towards the logical player offensively.
Take this play: Mitchell sees the switch, gets the ball to Conley to get it to Bogdanovic. The Mavs rotate, and the Jazz take advantage. Mitchell passes the ball early, but gets three points late.
Fortunately, that extended to Royce O’Neale. Look, we’ve seen O’Neale pass up these kinds of shots before, especially late in the game. But this is such an aggressive and positive mentality: attack the closeout by side-stepping into an open three. This was the game-winning shot, and it was set up by Mitchell smartly manipulating the defense’s aggression against him.
That’s what we have wanted to see most from the Jazz’s fourth quarter offense: playing like they do for the rest of the game. They need to stay aggressive, run in transition, and be smart about which players they attack and when. Even when the Mavs started coming back, they stayed true to their offensive identity. Finally.
3. Mavs rotation problems
Man, the Mavs have some significant issues without Luka Doncic.
Obviously, the first one is that they just lack offensive top-level talent. Spencer Dinwiddie and Jalen Brunson certainly can attack the Jazz’s worst defensive players, but with Gobert helping, their lives are still difficult.
But I think the bigger issue is their role players. Their starting lineup is fine: Brunson/Dinwiddie/Bullock/Finney-Smith/Powell is respectable.
But after that it’s really, really questionable. Maxi Kleber’s their sixth man, essentially at backup center, and his 3-point shot is all over the place right now. I know he went a respectable 2-5 tonight, but he shot just 18% from deep after the All-Star break this season. His form looks extremely inconsistent from shot to shot.
Josh Green, though, is worse. The Jazz just didn’t guard him for multiple possessions when he was in the game.
Davis Bertans has the opposite problem: he certainly can make a three, but whenever he was in the game, the Jazz relentlessly attacked him. Once they get the switch, it’s just very easy.
There’s no one else Jason Kidd seems to trust at this point. Not Sterling Brown, not Trey Burke, not Marqueese Chris or Boban Marjanovic. An eight-man rotation with this many weak players already is problematic.
Doncic coming back would obviously vacuum up some or even most of those minutes from sketchy players, but in the meantime, the Jazz have a huge advantage with exploitable players to attack on either end of the floor.
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